A Sinful Alliance
2008, Renaissance Romance (Tudor [1520s] England)
Harl Historical #893, $5.99, 288 pages, Amazon ASIN 037329493X
Part of a series
A Sinful Alliance is set in the too-little used Renaissance period, featuring intrigue at Henry VIII's court between two non-English leads, one an assassin charged with killing the other. Fun!
Marguerite Dumas is The Emerald Lily, a spy and assassin who has worked for the French crown since she was a teenager. She is remarkably effective at her job, until she is assigned to eliminate Nicolai Ostrovsky, who is in Venice at the behest of his own government in Russia to disrupt French interests in the lucrative trade routes to the East. Marguerite lures Nicolai to her room in her guise as a prostitute and things get so heated between them that her slight hesitation with her knife allows him to escape, leaving her alive and tied to the bed, with the promise that they will meet again.
Two years later, they do indeed meet again in England where delicate negotiations are taking place between England and France to engage the ten year old Princess Mary to Prince Henri. To complicate matters, the Spanish have also sent a delegation vehemently opposed to such a match and offering their own in its stead. Marguerite hasn't had a "job" since her failure in Venice but is given the chance to redeem herself by carefully observing the players and removing any that may stand in France's path, while posing as a comtesse's lady in waiting.
One of the members of the Spanish delegation is the mother of Nicolai's best friend, who, unable to attend himself, begs Nicolai to attend and watch over her. Nicolai's guise is as the Master of Revels to the Spanish, an actor and acrobat. When Nicolai and Marguerite meet again, the moment is electric, filled with wariness and awareness.
McCabe does an excellent job showing the gradual shift in Marguerite and Nicolai's interactions from suspicion and mistrust to a respectful truce to a deep and abiding love. Beneath it all is an undercurrent of magnetism and sense of inevitability that makes the relationship very compelling. They do not easily fall in love - they have both experienced too much betrayal for that - so when it does finally happen and they can admit to themselves that they are in love - that they even deserve love - it makes for very rewarding reading.
As you might imagine with someone who has been a spy since her teens, Marguerite's backstory, her journey from a sheltered childhood to assassin, is very affecting. She is full of shadows and an intriguing character. Nicolai is a bit less complicated, a generally sunny and open man for one of his profession. They complement each other and I believed in their HEA, though it took a bit of convenient contrivance to get them there.
For those bemoaning the sameness of historical romance, I urge you to give A Sinful Alliance a try. It is definitely Something Different.
-- Cheryl Sneed
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